La Cuisine Creole
Anthony Bourdain often says that you cannot separate a culture from its cuisine. They are bound together, and to talk of a place without speaking about the food that is eaten there is missing a vital element.
This is exactly what Lafcadio Hearn was attempting to capture when he published two books, “La Cuisine Creole” and “Gumbo Zhebes” in 1885. These two books together, he felt, captured a secret street culture of the French Quarter, a place of folktales and hot food.
While Hearn is best known for his books on Japanese folktales and legends, he got his start in New Orleans, scraping by working for a newspaper doing articles and illustrations as he could. I did not realize he also owned a small restaurant, The Hard Times, specializing in nickel dishes of food for the poverty-stricken. His restaurant didn’t last long, but he collected recipes with the same fervor that he would later collect folktales.
This lovely hardback, “Lafcadio Hearn’s Creole Cookbook”, brings together “La Cuisine Creole” and “Gumbo Zhebes”, reproducing exactly the traditional recipes and folk sayings that Hearn loved so much. Preserving not only the original typeface and presentation, Hearn’s illustrations are also included.
The recipes are as old fashioned as you can imagine, using measurements such as “a gill of oil” and giving cooking instructions based on a wood or coal burning stove. The book is a fantastic snapshot of how people cooked back then. There are recipes not only for delights like “Simple Okra Gumbo” and “Fricassee of Crab”, but also on how “To Make Good and Cheap Vinegar” and “Superior Tomato Catsup”. You couldn’t just run down to the grocery store and pick these things up pre-made!
Because of the old-fashioned directions, the recipes can be a little hard to follow but not impossible. I have made a few now and they have all turned out well, so I am looking forward to trying some of the more complicated ones. One that was delicious and easy was “To Pickle Red Cabage” and I also quite enjoyed “A Delicious Omelet”. There are recipes here for frog, turtle, deer, beef tongue and any kind of seafood imagineable.